Corporate Innovation “Press-to-Test”

Having experienced 7 distinct generations of technology [from punched cards (my first Fortran program), enterprise computing, PC’s, client server, mobile, cloud-based and now blockchain] from the corporate and entrepreneur perspective suggests that I am really old or Next Gen’s are coming very fast. Perhaps both.

The focal point of today’s market disruption is the collision of traditional corporate giants with the new titans of the entrepreneurial world with their unlimited war chest of funds, plus the vision, talent and intention to change ANY world they choose to enter. This paradigm shift reminds me of our efforts to take successful ground and air tactics of WWII into the Jungle warfare of Viet Nam. Success does not always breed Success.

It is from this lens that I share a perspective of today’s mainstream corporate innovation efforts and its lack of effectiveness. Many efforts are not grasping today’s dynamics related to consumer techno-centric buying patterns and new standards set by the new breed of mega-market leaders born in this century. For most, reality is…”how to cope, keep-up and catch-up.” That challenge, in the broadest definition, falls under the umbrella of Corporate Innovation.

For me, Corporate Innovation is simply a modern business process, for all size businesses, to create products and services that exploit and capture new market niches, protect existing market presence, and/or address new process improvements to deliver goods and services. The challenge is HOW?

Corporations have been wrestling with innovation for 18 years starting with culture change to skunk works of special thinkers armed with platforms and programs designed to foster inter-entrepreneurship. Few have been effective in competing with new competitors, and seemingly millions of entrepreneurs, with overnight niche solutions that work. What just happened?

Yes, I am from the school that Corporate Innovation is not one size fit’s all. However, I am also a believer that there are five (5) essential components every unique Corporate Innovation strategy must have to sustain success, regardless of size. And, when they are not there – well intentioned, in vogue disparate programs fall short of expectations and eventually fail to produce quantitative results. The innovation success throttles are:

1.  Flow of Ideas. This is simple arithmetic meets the law of natural selection. The number of successful innovative solutions is a function of the number of good ideas coming into the funnel. In-vogue remote corporate innovation centers fail to produce results when their pipeline of good ideas stop coming from the departments they serve and from the external ecosystem they reside in.

Today, the flow of ideas must emanate from the trenches – defined as the sales force, affiliates, production floor, supply chain, strategic partners and clients. Also entrepreneurs, who continually search for niches they can fill, irrespective of the challenges they face to raise capital and/or penetrate the market. The rule of thumb is it takes 5 ideas to create one worthy solution and 100 to birth a new product or process.

2.  Idea curation. Campaigns ignite the flow of ideas, but that demands the ability to respond to the submitter, evaluate, critique, incubate and weed-out the wheat from the chaff. Businesses have creators and evaluators. Engaging both are critical. Processing ideas must also be a defined business process to insure fairness on behalf of the submitters. Mess this up and the flow will stop – even if the campaigns continue. Finally, the curation process goal is to assemble a subset of the ideas into viable projects that have merit followed by rejecting and responding to others that do not. Next, dispatch the viable projects to corporate resources, or departments, capable of re-thinking the project and running it through their unique “sandbox” to prioritize winners, holds and rejects.

3.  Commercialize winners.      Never easy – even with internal and external accelerators, or new factory assembly line incubators. Commercialization is a definable business process that is fueled by the input of vetted ideas, concepts coming from Idea curation, department heads, plus outside entrepreneurs. Each project needs to have a leader that is responsible for pulling ALL of the internal and external resources together to successfully navigate each candidate through every critical step in the new business formation process or product/service evolution. These well-defined steps are very similar to what an entrepreneur goes through to scale in the outside world. Each commercialization milestone represents a pass, fail, or pivot stage for projects advancing through the commercialization pipeline.

4.  Innovation Analytics.   It is all about measuring and reporting the innovation results to both the C-Suite, employees and especially the submitters. It is about the IRR (Internal Rate of Return) and IIP (Internal Innovation Promotion). Yes, with effective innovation – Success breeds Success. Not only is it important to hype the success, but recognize and reward the key employees who helped make it happen – to include the original submitter/s. This is an integral part of Employee Engagement strategies. Executives and innovation management leaders need to quantify the food chain of ideas submitted leading to products, services and process improvements out the door.

5.  Sustainability.   The above processes are not a one and done exercise. For the truly innovative companies, this process is ongoing and becomes the essence of their corporate culture. It is a program consisting of multiple campaigns to drive the flow of ideas, websites, innovation training, plus recognition events to hype the process. It recognizes the winners and contributors, plus their importance and value to the business. Innovation is not an addition to their job, but an integral part of their personal contribution and work ethos. It applies, and is available not to a select few, but to all. It is part of the new Corporate Innovation Culture.

Conclusion.   So take these 5 crucial Innovation components to heart, irrespective of how large or small your business is. How many of the above 5 critical Innovation segments does your business have?    If so, where are the weakest links?